Why is the BMW E34 535i one of BMW’s best and what is it like finding a brand new one almost 30 years later?
Getting a brand-new BMW 5-Series in 2019 would be just as exciting as getting a 1990 BMW E34 535i in 1990. However, one lucky individual will soon be getting a brand-new 1990 BMW E34 535i in 2019.
Recently up for sale, Bringatrailer.com is selling what is essentially a brand-new 1990 BMW 535i with just 3,600 miles. The BMW 535i in question was built in an era when German engineering was known for reliability, durability, quality, and use of the best materials.
The brand-new 1990 BMW 535i
The brand-new 1990 BMW 535i is black with a black leather interior that is powered by BMW’s venerable M30B35 engine. Converting power into motion is a Getrag 260 five-speed manual transmission. This particular BMW 535i has several other very desirable features such as a sunroof and dual-climate control. Additional equipment includes 16-inch OEM BBS wheels, which were standard on the BMW 535i.
This particular 1990 BMW 535i was purchased new in Pennsylvania in 1990 and driven for a few months before being stored for the winter. 24 years later, it was pulled out of “winter” storage and given a mild refresh by the original owner before being sold to the selling dealer.
The BMW M30B35 engine
The 1990 BMW 535i was powered by the legendary M30B35 engine producing 211 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. It is an inline 6-cylinder engine with 2 valves per cylinder known for its reliability and torque. It is not uncommon for an M30 to see 300,000 miles of service before needing to be rebuilt.
There were several versions of the M30 that were built over the years. The M30 powering the previous generation BMW e28 535i was the M30B34. It left the factory with 184 horsepower, almost 30 horsepower less than B35. For this reason, the M30B35 engine from the E34 and BMW E32 735i were a cost-effective and attractive engine upgrade for the BMW e28 535i. The engine mounts between engines are the same. As a result, the only modification is to the wiring harness because the harness between the E28 and E34/E32 was different.
The Getrag 260 5-Speed manual transmission
Most BMW e34 535is left the factory with a four-speed ZF automatic transmission. 6,469 or 5% of the BMW E34 535i were built with the Getrag 260 5-speed transmission. This particular transmission was also used in the BMW e34 525i, 540i, and BMW E36.
The BMW E34 was produced between 1989 and 1995. Aside from the E34 M5, the top-of-the-line 5-Series passenger sedan was the 535i you see here. Between 1992 and 1995, the BMW E34 540i replaced the 535i as BMW’s top of the line 5-Series passenger sedan. Powered by the BMW M60B40 4.0 liter eight-cylinder engine. The E34 540i was available with two manual transmissions; a 5-speed and 6-speed. The 5-speed manual transmission available in the 540i was the same Getrag 260 available in the 535i. The 6-speed manual transmission was the same one offered in the BMW E34 M5, the Getrag 420G.
Whereas the BMW E34 M5, was powered by the inline 6-cylinder 3.6 liter S38 engine, the M60B40 was an eight-cylinder engine. When combined with the Getrag 420G 6-speed manual transmission, the BMW 540I was seen by some as a lower-cost alternative to the M5.
“Special” editions of the BMW 5-Series
In 1993, the BMW E34 M5 was discontinued in non-European marketing. To replace the car, BMW built the 540i M-Sport in 1995. In addition to the features that came with the 540i, the M-Sport included a sports suspension, bolstered sports seats, Servotronics, and US-spec M5 brakes. A total of 205 “M-Sport” models were built, 139 of them with the Getrag 420G 6-speed manual transmission.
For the Canadian market, BMW built the M540i, which included all of the features of the North American 540I M-Sport, plus upgraded Euro-spec M5 brakes, 18-inch M-parallel wheels, and various trim pieces. Only 32 of the BMW M540i were built, all with a manual transmission.
How is the BMW E34 different?
In my opinion, what makes the BMW E34 special is when the vehicle was built. It was built in the late 1980s and early 90s when “German engineering” meant “overbuilt” in terms of reliability, quality, both in terms of materials used and workmanship, and durability. The BMW E34 535i epitomizes vehicles from this era. The venerable M30 engine was at the end of its life after 20+ years of having worked out the kinks, so to speak. The engine was simple, reliable, and proven. Durability extended to the body of the vehicle as well when parts were made of steel and aluminum rather than plastic and other materials.
Vehicles from this era were mainly analog as opposed to digital. Drivetrains were also still largely metal and mechanical, built prior to the era of plastics and electronics.
In the mid to late 90s, BMW began incorporating more plastics into their engines, affecting reliability. Shortly thereafter, they and other automobile manufacturers started incorporating electronic components into their drivetrains, at the expense of reliability and durability. As a result, reputations and resale values suffered.
Select Japanese auto manufacturers also incorporated more electronics and plastics into their automobiles. However, vehicle reliability and resale values did not suffer. On the contrary, they seemed to go up. As a result, reliability and resale values seemed to suffer as a result of an executive decision, rather than new technologies.
The BMW E34 535i came from an era when German reliability signified “overbuilt”. Mercedes Benz from the era also had this same mindset and it was reflected in the vehicles that they produced at the time.
The BMW E34 M5
The quality workmanship of the BMW E34 extended to the E34 M5 as well. Like the previous BMW E28 M5, the E34 M5 was hand-built at the BMW M-Sport facility in Garching, Germany. The bodies were built on the BMW 5-Series assembly line in Dingolfing, Germany before being sent to Garching for drivetrains and interiors.
Wrapping it all up
While modern-day cars are much faster than cars from a previous era, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are better. For many cars, such performance often comes at the expense of reliability and character. The BMW E34 535i is a car from another era that epitomizes “German reliability”. It was solid, reliable, and full of driving character.
While the BMW E34 535i is becoming increasingly rare, good examples occasionally come up. Just recently, a 1990 BMW E34 535i appeared on Bringatrailer.com with just 3,600 miles. For one lucky buyer, they will learn firsthand, what it is like to buy a brand-new 1990 BMW E34 535i in 2019.